What are the best empathy books for kids? Teaching your kids to see the world through the eyes of others, to empathize, can be difficult. These stories about empathy are great ways for teachers to teach empathy to elementary students. Many of the books have attached empathy activities for kids. Can empathy be learned? Through books all things are possible.
Reading is probably one of the greatest forms of empathy for elementary students. Through books we get to live in the minds of characters who have backgrounds and experiences far different from our own. As teachers, we show our students how to listen with empathy as we read aloud books to them. They need to show empathy for others by listening to the read.
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Check out the books:
How to Heal a Broken Wing by Bob Graham
Will goes to the city with his mom and is the only one in the crowded square to see an injured pigeon. He brings the pigeon home and nurses it back to health with lots of love, care, and patience. A book that I love to help students see that just because no one else sees that something is a problem, does not mean that it isn’t a problem.
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Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena
CJ and his grandmother are riding in a bus through their city. CJ’s grandmother helps him see that “sometimes when you’re surrounded by dirt, CJ, you’re a better witness for what’s beautiful.” He comes to see the value in his neighborhood and the others on the bus as they make their way to the last stop on Market Street to serve at a soup kitchen. A lovely multicultural read aloud book.
Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts
Jeremy is dying for a pair of “those shoes.” All of the other boys have them and they make you faster! Jeremy’s family can’t afford things that they want, just things that they need. Jeremy finally gets a pair of the shoes, even though they’re far too small for him. This is when sees his opportunity to help a friend in need. To show empathy, we need to stop only looking at ourselves and look outwards.
They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel
This may be one of my favorite empathy books. In this book, Brendan Wenzel shows us how different animals see a cat. Each animal sees the cat differently because of their perspective. The fish sees a scary monster. The dog sees something to chase. Depending on what each animal thinks of the cat, they see it differently. Talk about a great way to teach empathy to kids. That’s basically the definition of empathy.
A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead
A lovely story about a kindly zookeeper who knows just what each of his animal friends need. One day, though, Amos doesn’t come to the zoo and his animal friends worry. They hop on the bus and go see him and do all of the things that they love to do together. A perfect book to remind kids that we’re not always feeling up to our normal selves and we need to still show kindness and help each other.
I Am Human by Susan Verde
The subtitle of this book is literally: A Book of Empathy. It’s a book about compassion and trying to find common ground with those around us. Peter H. Reynolds’ illustrations complement and add to the story to allow for the readers to make sense of the poetic nature of Verde’s writing.
Saturday by Oge Mora
A girl and her mom look forward all week to their favorite day: Saturday! Her mom works the other days of the week, but she always plans for special days on Saturdays. This Saturday is no different: they have a flamingo puppet show to go to! Bad things start to happen, though. The girl gets frustrated. Her mom gets frustrated. Just when they miss the puppet show and her mom is about to lose it, though, the girl sees this and tells her mom that the best part about Saturdays is just being together.
Just Ask! by Sonia Sotomayor
A great book about recognizing and understanding the ways that kids can be different. What I love most, though, is that the book shows how kids are different, but then it prompts the students to recognize how they too are different. For example: kids with diabetes need medicine to stay healthy. Everyone needs to medicine sometimes to stay healthy! What makes this one of the best empathy books for kids is how it focuses acceptance. This is also one of my favorite books about disabilities for kids.
Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson
If you thought that all of these books had happy endings, I present you: Each Kindness. There’s a new girl at school who doesn’t quite fit in. She wears old clothes. She plays different games. She’s kind, though. The other girls, though, are not nice even when the new girl tries to befriend them. The girl is excluded and eventually she leaves the school. Only then one of the girls realizes that she needed to show some compassion. The teacher uses an analogy of kindness being like a ripple in a pond. A great story for upper elementary to discuss just when these kind of social problems begin to appear.
The Remember Balloons by Jessie Oliveros
When a boy’s grandfather begins to repeat the same stories, he doesn’t understand. He starts to get annoyed and he wonders why. His parents explain that memories are like balloons and that his grandfather is starting to lose some. The illustrator shows these balloons in the illustrations and students can see them. This analogy helps the boy understand what is happening to grandpa and gives him ideas about how to deal with this change. Probably the best book for helping students understand dementia and Alzheimer’s with their grandparents.
Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen and Kevin Hawkes
This book is the PERFECT story for empathy in the library. Who would think that a lion of all things would be the perfect library patron? It’s a very thoughtful lion and even when it breaks the librarian’s rules, it’s for a good reason. Thanks to Deb in the community for reminding me of this amazing story! This is also one my favorite children’s books about library!
The Fate of Fausto by Oliver Jeffers
This book is essentially a cautionary tale about what happens when you DON’T show empathy. Fausto declares himself the owner of many things including a tree and a mountain and a boat. The things all agree until Fausto tells the sea that it belongs to him and the sea says, “No.” This is when Fausto learns what happens when you try to control things. It’s one of my favorite empathy books for kids that will have your students laughing out loud.
One Smile by Cindy McKinley
This book was a suggestion from Jen in the Picture Book Brain community! This story shows that even the smallest acts of kindness can powerfully impact the lives of others. This truth is beautifully demonstrated as we follow the far-reaching effects of young Katie’s innocent smile. With this simple gesture, she ignites a circle of warmth that flows from person to person, touching the hearts and lives of people she may never even meet.
Beyond the Fence by Maria Gulemetova
Another cautionary tale about a pig who lives with a boy in a big house. The boy tells the pig what it needs to do and how to dress. One day, though, he meets a wild pig who tells him what it’s like beyond the fence. The pig loves it. It returns to the boy, though and realizes that it needs to leave. The boy does not show compassion. He does not listen to what the pig wants to do. The pig leaves and goes beyond the fence.
Boxes for Katje by Candace Fleming
A lovely story that could also be used for social studies. Two girls start being penpals after World War II: one in the USA, the other in Holland. The girl in the USA learns how difficult things are in Katje’s village in Holland and progressively sends more and more things to help. What started with just one girl ended up being an entire town sending things for Katje’s village. A beautiful story about how kindness can cause a ripple effect and bring about great change making it one of my favorite empathy books for kids.
Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell
A girl and a wolf pup are both caught in a terrible snowstorm. Both have been taught to fear the other. The girl helps the wolf pup find its pack and later the wolf pack helps the girl. A wonderful story about how appearances can be deceiving. A completely wordless book that is also a favorite for reading in winter.
What If Everybody Said That? by Ellen Javernick
A book about the impact that our words can have. If one person says something unkind, it actually is a big deal. If one person says it, others will say it. Our words have as much power if not more power than our actions. This book is especially powerful for teaching empathy for upper elementary students. With the focus on kindness, this is also on my list of the best books for back to school.
Enemy Pie by Derek Munson
A boy was ready to have a perfect summer until Jeremy Ross moved in. Jeremy quickly becomes enemy #1 for the boy. Luckily the boy’s dad has a way to deal with enemies: Enemy Pie! A key part of enemy pie, though, is spending the entire day with the enemy. A book about finding common ground with someone who you may dislike and the power of spending time with someone. This is a great book for teaching at back to school time!
We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen
Two tortoise friends living in a desert find a hat. It fits both of them really well. Since there’s only one hat, though, there’s only one thing friends can do: forget about the hat. Right? One tortoise forgets about the hat, the other does not. He plans to take the hat when the other goes to sleep. Just when the other tortoise is almost asleep, he says that he’s dreaming that they both have a hat. This makes the other turtle rethink his plan and dreams about having a hat with his friend.
Someday by Alison Mcghee
A mother writes to her daughter about how she feels watching her grow. In the beginning, the girl needs her mother a lot. As she grows, though, she appears to need her less and less and goes further and further away from the mother. The girl becomes a mother herself and understands what her mother felt. Even when the daughter is an old woman, she still needs her mother.